RARA-AVIS: Re: Chandler's The Lady in the Lake

From: JIM DOHERTY ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 07 Nov 2007


Re your comment below:

"Whatever you do, don't watch the movie adaptation. It's the worst Chandler adaptation ever, and it's shot entirely in the first person-the only time you see the detective is when he looks in the mirror, and he's not a detective he's a writer and there's a love story, and it's set at Christmas. In short, Hollywood did everything possible to ruin one of Chandler's best works."

It's far from the best Chandler adaptation, but it's nowhere near the worst. That distinction is now, and ever shall be, the exclusive property of Robert Altman's THE LONG GOODBYE.

In the film version of TLITL, Marlowe IS a private eye. He's TRYING to be a writer (not unlike Dashiell Hammett) and has fictionalized one of his cases and sent it off to a pulp publisher. One of the editors of the magazine company becomes his client.

The original version of the script, with its many changes from the original novel, was actually by Chandler. The studio, of all things, objected to the many changes Chandler made, and hired another, lesser, mystery novelist, Steve Fisher, to do a rewrite. Chandler was so displeased with the rewrite that he removed his name from the credits, other than as the writer of the source material.

Fisher claimed that he did little other than complete the script and make some fairly minor revisions to the part Chandler had already completed. It was, presumably, Chandler who changed the business setting from, IIRC, a perfume company to a pulp magazine publisher (a business both he and Fisher would have been familiar with). And, IIRC, in the short story version of TLITL, the business was something else altogether. This lends some credence to the conclusion that it was Chandler who made the change when he adapted the novel into a screenplay, since he had already made a a similar change when he adapted the the short story into a novel (incorporating elements of another short story, "Bay City Blues," when he did he expansion).

As for the finished film directed by Robert Montgomery, who also played Marlowe, a lot of it doesn't work. The whole subjective camera gimmick is just that, a gimmick. And Montgomery's Marlowe comes across less as tough and clever than mean-spirited and bloody-minded.

On the other hand, there are fine performances by Lloyd Nolan as the brutal Bay City cop, DeGarmo, Joyce Meadows as a temptress, and Tom Tully as a basically decent police captain. And a lot of the dialog is sharp and distinctly Chandler-like.

Worth seeing if only because it's the only Marlowe film on which Chandler actually contributed to the script.


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